The South’s Best Mountain Towns 2021
Oh, give us a mountain town—the cozy streets and forested surroundings, charming shops and local breweries, snow flurries in winter and cool breezes in summer. There’s nothing else like it. We’re always looking for an excuse to plan a trip to higher altitudes, and now, more than ever, we can’t wait to answer the call. The strategy? Pick a town, rent a cabin, and get away from it all. Browse welcoming downtowns, meet your neighbors, do some hiking, and take advantage of photo ops along meandering rivers and crashing waterfalls. In short? See the sights. Won’t you come too? Plan a trip to one of the South’s Best mountain towns, from the Ozarks to the Smokies and every peak in between. Then enjoy looking forward to those adventures you can only find in the midst of the South’s most picturesque ranges. Haven’t you heard? Mountain towns just have more fun.
Banner Elk, North Carolina
This colorful little hamlet near Boone and Blowing Rock might be a one-stoplight town, but it has a surprising array of offerings, including great dining at places like Artisanal, which collaborates with Springhouse Farm to keep its menu seasonal. Check out wineries and breweries in the area, as well as two of the South’s premier ski resorts, Beech Mountain and Sugar Mountain. P.S. Where else could you find an annual Woolly Worm Festival?
Blue Ridge, Georgia
Thimble-size Blue Ridge offers you a boatload of reasons to come, including great restaurants (do not miss Harvest on Main or Chester Brunnenmeyer’s Bar and Grill), artisans (people travel from all over the world to learn the art of making bamboo fly rods with Bill Oyster), and local shops and galleries (clear some space on your credit card for a stop at Canoe and some room in your trunk for the handmade jewelry and handbags you’ll buy there). The Georgia Highlands area is wine and apple country, so you can tour plenty of vineyards and orchards from your Blue Ridge base, with abundant adventure in the mountains.
Boone, North Carolina
Located right off the Blue Ridge Parkway, Boone shares Asheville’s hippie vibe, but it lives on a smaller scale. These mountains have long inspired artists, and Appalachian State University’s Turchin Center for the Visual Arts encourages locals and visitors to interact with great works, indoors and out. The impressive food scene in Boone attracts a following with farm-to-table dining. And, of course, you get to revel in the beauty of the Blue Ridge. Icing on the cake: Boone now has a luxury boutique property, The Horton Hotel, which opened in 2019.
Elkins, West Virginia
An outdoor paradise, Elkins sits on the edge of Monongahela National Forest (check out the Dolly Sods Wilderness within the forest). You can take the steam-powered Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad into the Appalachians or hike and bike the Allegheny Highlands Trail to catch some of the best mountain scenery in the South. At Davis & Elkins College, visit the Augusta Heritage Center, which preserves traditional music, dance, crafts, and folklore.
The South's Best Mountain Towns
North Georgia is best known for mountains, wineries, and apples. Ellijay checks all three boxes. The scenery here is amazing, and you’ll be in close proximity to places like Fainting Goat Vineyards & Winery, Engelheim Vineyards, Red Apple Barn, Hillcrest Orchards, and B.J. Reece Orchards. Get caffeinated at the Ellijay Coffeehouse, or grab a stool at Cartecay River Brewing Co. to sample craft beers with a view. Better yet, you can get on the water with an outfitter or take a hike to explore nature in the Cohutta and Rich Mountain Wilderness areas.
Fayetteville, West Virginia
Situated next to the New River Gorge—which recently became a National Park and Preserve—Fayetteville is a tiny, walkable town featuring great restaurants. Stop for a wake-up cup at Cathedral Cafe, housed in a former church and still operating with a strong social conscience by supporting area growers and the community. At Secret Sandwich Society, both the food and the cocktails are handcrafted. Local breweries are happy to serve you a cold one and welcome you into the fold. And when you’re ready for it—that river is always calling.
This college town on Maryland’s lesser known “mountain side” has an eclectic collection of local shops, including independently owned Main Street Books and Yellow K Records, where you can pick up some choice vinyl; McFarland Candies, a third-generation family-run chocolate maker; and Clatter Café, the gathering spot for coffee lovers. Outdoor recreation here is limitless. Bike the Great Allegheny Passage, pack a picnic to enjoy on a drive through Green Ridge State Forest, or paddle a river—we could go on.
Heber Springs, Arkansas
Founded as a health resort and planned community in the mid-19th century, Heber Springs is a historic town that has lots of character. But nature might be the biggest draw here. The Buckeye Trail (a National Recreation Trail) is wheelchair accessible—a rare find—while the Collins Creek Trail follows a waterway designed to promote trout reproduction. (Anglers from far and wide flock to Heber Springs to dip a line.) Head for trout-fishing heaven on the Little Red River, or enjoy water sports on 30,000- to 40,000-acre Greers Ferry Lake, which was created in the 1960s.
Hendersonville, North Carolina
Another cousin to Asheville, Hendersonville is artsy and interesting but smaller. Follow the Cheers! Trail to wine, beer, cider, and mead, but allow plenty of time for grazing because Hendersonville’s restaurant scene is hopping. Mezzaluna, for example, is a terrific Italian spot with 50 taps and plenty of choices to suit wine lovers. At Postero, the menu includes a charcuterie-and-cheese appetizer with dry-cured pork, a daily selection of local farmstead cheeses, seasonal fruits, house pickles, and more. Visit Jump Off Rock in Laurel Park for stunning Blue Ridge views. Be sure to catch a performance at the nearby Flat Rock Playhouse, the state theater of North Carolina.
The state’s oldest town is also known as the Storytelling Capital of the World—home to the International Storytelling Center and the annual National Storytelling Festival. From May through September, head downtown for Friday night Music on the Square, featuring musicians, poets, storytellers, and other performers. Dip into Jonesborough’s Appalachian roots at the Tennessee Hills Distillery, which believes “the old way is the right way.” Dining options abound—from Mexican food to brewpub grub—but this place has a serious sweet tooth: Old Town Dairy Bar, Downtown Sweet, and Sweet E’s Bakery. You can hike it off on the Appalachian Trail from Laurel Falls to Pond Mountain in neighboring Hampton.